Publishing Options for Nonfiction Authors

14 Nov 2023


Up-and-coming nonfiction authors often encounter limited traditional publishing avenues when seeking to publish works like memoirs, autobiographies, or family history projects. 

Established publishers tend to prioritize renowned authors or commercial genres, leaving lesser-known writers with constrained opportunities. However, there is a silver lining.

Various alternative options exist; many can actually save writers a lot of time and money.

Deciding on which option to go with is just a matter of the author’s goals, budget, and the level of control they desire.

10 Publishing Options for Nonfiction Books

Now, more than ever, there is a plethora of publishing options for nonfiction authors. Whether authors look to publish a memoir, an autobiography, or a how-to guide, these options offer numerous opportunities to take a writing project to fruition. 

Let’s take a look at each option, as well as the pros and cons:

Traditional Publishing With Established Houses

  • Description: Traditional publishing entails collaboration with renowned publishing entities like Penguin Random House or HarperCollins, often requiring submissions through literary agents.
  • Advantages: This route offers esteemed recognition, professional editorial and marketing support, advance payments, and royalties.
  • Considerations: Securing a traditional deal is fiercely competitive, with limited authorial control and extended publication timelines.

Hybrid Publishing

  • Description: Hybrid publishers, such as She Writes Press or Archway Publishing, merge elements of traditional and self-publishing. Authors share publication costs.
  • Advantages: This approach grants authors greater creative control, access to professional services, and shared financial responsibility.
  • Considerations: Authors bear some financial burden, and quality can vary among hybrid publishers.

Independent Self-Publishing

  • Description: Independent authors utilize platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or IngramSpark to publish nonfiction works autonomously.
  • Advantages: Authors get full autonomy over content, design, distribution, expedited publication, and enhanced royalty earnings.
  • Considerations: Authors must oversee editing, design, and marketing or engage professionals for these services, necessitating a proactive marketing strategy.

Small Press Publishing

  • Description: Small presses, often niche-oriented, publish nonfiction books. They offer a personalized approach and may be open to unconventional topics.
  • Advantages: Authors receive personalized attention, improved odds of publication, and potential for better royalties.
  • Considerations: They offer limited marketing and distribution resources compared to larger publishers.

Print-on-Demand (POD)

  • Description: POD services, such as Amazon’s KDP Print, enable authors to print fiction and nonfiction books as ordered, eliminating the need for extensive print runs.
  • Advantages: There are minimal upfront printing costs, worldwide availability, and reduced inventory management.
  • Considerations: There is limited brick-and-mortar bookstore distribution and per-unit costs can be higher.

E-Book Publishing

  • Description: Authors can exclusively publish nonfiction books as e-books on platforms like Amazon KDP, Apple Books, or Barnes & Noble Nook Press.
  • Advantages: Authors get lower production expenses, global accessibility, and streamlined distribution.
  • Considerations: E-book market competition is intense and there are constraints to digital formats.

Vanity or Subsidy Publishing

  • Description: Vanity publishers, such as AuthorHouse or Xlibris, publish books for a fee, offering various services.
  • Advantages: Authors retain creative control, enjoy expedited publication, and receive royalties.
  • Considerations: Costs can be substantial, and quality varies based on the chosen publisher.

University or Academic Presses

  • Description: Specializing in academic and scholarly works, these presses, like MIT Press or Oxford University Press, publish nonfiction books in specific fields.
  • Advantages: Authors get rigorous academic validation, authoritative credibility, and targeted audience access.
  • Considerations: There are stringent academic standards and limited accessibility to general readers.

Agent-Assisted Publishing

  • Description: Literary agents partner with authors to secure publishing deals, often in niche markets or with smaller publishers.
  • Advantages: Authors get professional guidance, access to exclusive publishing channels, and enhanced negotiation power.
  • Considerations: Agents may charge fees or take a percentage of royalties.

Crowdfunding and Self-Publishing

  • Description: Authors can use crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter to finance book production and then self-publish using online platforms.
  • Advantages: This option allows authors to gauge interest and secure funding upfront, followed by the flexibility of self-publishing.
  • Considerations: This option requires successful crowdfunding campaigns, self-publishing responsibilities, and marketing efforts.

Selecting the most suitable publishing option for your nonfiction book necessitates a thorough evaluation of your objectives, budget, target audience, and the level of control you wish to maintain throughout the publishing process. 

Effective marketing and promotion efforts are crucial to book success, regardless of the chosen route.

How To Choose the Best Option for Publishing a Nonfiction Book

Choosing the best publishing option for your nonfiction book is a critical decision that can significantly impact a book’s success and the overall publishing experience.

To make an informed choice, authors should consider several key factors while maintaining a formal tone throughout the process.

Here are some things to keep in mind when selecting the best publishing option for your project:

  • Clarifying the author’s goals. The first step in this formal evaluation is for the author to define their publishing objectives. They should consider whether their primary goal is to gain recognition, generate profit, maintain creative control, or cater to a specific target audience.
  • Understanding the target audience. A crucial aspect is to identify the intended readership for the nonfiction book. Authors should determine whether their work is for a niche audience, professionals, academics, or the general public. Understanding the readership helps shape the choice of the publishing route.
  • Assessing the budget. Financial considerations play a pivotal role. Authors need to assess their financial resources realistically. Different publishing options entail varying costs. For instance, traditional publishing typically does not necessitate upfront expenses. At the same time, self-publishing may require covering editing, design, and marketing costs.
  • Reviewing the manuscript’s preparedness. The author should critically assess the readiness of their manuscript. Has it undergone professional editing and proofreading? A polished manuscript enhances the prospects of success, irrespective of the chosen publishing route.
  • In-depth research of publishing options. A thorough exploration of available publishing options is imperative. Authors should investigate traditional, hybrid, self-publishing, small press publishing, and other alternatives. It is essential to have a comprehensive understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of each avenue.
  • Submitting formal book proposals. Authors should be prepared to craft formal book proposals adhering to industry standards in traditional publishing. These proposals should encompass a well-structured cover letter, a concise book synopsis, a comprehensive chapter outline, a market analysis, and an author biography.
  • Considering literary representation. For traditional publishing, seeking literary representation from a reputable agent can be advantageous. Agents possess the expertise required to facilitate manuscript submission, negotiate contracts, and navigate the intricacies of the publishing industry.
  • Carefully reviewing publishing contracts. A formal, thorough examination is paramount when presented with a traditional publishing contract. Authors should scrutinize clauses related to royalties, rights, marketing commitments, and any provisions affecting creative control. It is essential to comprehend the terms and implications fully.
  • Examining services of hybrid and self-publishing. A comprehensive evaluation of the services publishers or platforms provide is mandatory for those contemplating hybrid or self-publishing. Factors to consider include editing quality, cover design options, formatting services, and distribution capabilities. Transparency and professionalism are key considerations.
  • Preserving rights and ownership. Regardless of the chosen publishing arrangement, authors must ensure they retain the rights of paramount importance to them. Intellectual property rights, copyright, and control over future editions are aspects to safeguard formally.
  • Formulating a robust marketing and promotion plan. Authors should determine how they intend to market and promote their books. While traditional publishers typically offer marketing support, self-published authors must be prepared to develop and execute a formal marketing plan independently.
  • Networking and seeking advice. Engaging with fellow authors, writing organizations, and industry professionals can provide invaluable insights and recommendations. Formal interactions within these networks can help authors make informed decisions.
  • Considering timelines. Authors should take into account their desired publication timeline. Traditional publishing often involves longer lead times, whereas self-publishing allows for more rapid release. The chosen timeline should align with the author’s goals.
  • Balancing control and support. The author must balance the creative control they wish to retain and the support they expect from their publisher. Traditional publishing may offer less control but more support, whereas self-publishing provides complete control but requires greater self-sufficiency.
  • Consulting with legal professionals. Legal counsel, ideally from a literary attorney or a legal expert, is advisable when reviewing publishing contracts, addressing rights and royalties, and ensuring that the author’s formal legal interests are protected.
  • Requesting references and testimonials. When considering hybrid publishers or self-publishing services, it is prudent to formally request references and testimonials from authors who have utilized these services. Such formal endorsements offer insights into the provider’s track record.
  • Reviewing success stories. Authors should study success stories of similar books that have followed the chosen publishing method. Analyzing what worked for these books can help inform the author’s strategy.
  • Making a thoughtful decision. After thorough consideration, the author should select the publishing option that aligns most effectively with their goals, audience, budget, and creative aspirations. The decision should be communicated formally and professionally.

A formal and comprehensive approach to choosing the most suitable publishing option for a nonfiction book is crucial. It involves systematically evaluating various factors, carefully considering goals and resources, and informed decision-making. This approach ensures that the author’s publishing choice aligns with their vision for the book and maximizes its potential for success.


Preserve your legacy

A Final Thought

Publishing a book is a significant milestone in an author’s journey, demanding thoughtful consideration when selecting the best option. It marks the culmination of creativity, dedication, and expertise. Authors must weigh the pros and cons of traditional publishing, self-publishing, or hybrid models, considering their goals, budgets, and the level of control they desire. This choice can impact the book’s success and the author’s career and reputation. 

Careful deliberation ensures that the chosen publishing avenue aligns seamlessly with the author’s aspirations, maximizing the chances of bringing their work to the widest possible audience while preserving their creative vision. Ultimately, investing time and effort in finding the best publishing option can lead to a fulfilling literary experience.

Zach Richter 

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